Leroy grew up on a small farm west of Holy Hill. His mother was an avid photographer. In 1956, at 8 years old, he asked her to buy him a camera because, for him, the concept of “freezing time” was the most incredible thing. However, she said he’d have to make the money to buy one himself so that he’d appreciate it more. So he found a greeting card selling contest in one of his comic books that had a camera as one of the prizes. One day, a delivery truck dropped off a dozen boxes of cards, much to the chagrin of his parents. But Leroy persisted and, stocking-capped and squeaky-voiced, went door to door. Alas, he didn’t sell many cards—mom had to bail him out. Leroy thinks of his mother, who passed away twelve years ago, every time he takes a photograph because she is the one who lit his passion for photography.
He began experimenting with 35mm photography while serving in Vietnam. His homecoming and reintegration proved difficult, however, and eventually Leroy found himself living on the streets—where he honed his photographic mindset and perspective. Himself a subject of many non-homeless photographers, Leroy discovered that many of the well-meaning photographers were actually quite impersonal, and he told himself that if he ever got off the streets that he would return to photograph and create relationships with his subjects. He knew that he would focus on people’s faces, especially their eyes, which, when “frozen in time,” are evocative and supremely human.
Now known affectionately as “Cameraman” by those experiencing homelessness, Leroy has worked on the St. Ben’s Community Meal Program annual calendar for the past 21 years and works each year for Help-Portrait Milwaukee, which offers free photo shoots for underprivileged families in December. To be known as “Cameraman,” Leroy says, is both humbling and rewarding. He says that his life as a photographer has been an incredible 61-year-old journey.
ZIP MKE was pleased to feature the first public exhibition of Leroy’s work at the Tippecanoe Library in February 2017.
See more of Leroy’s work at tinyurl.com/jfs8q9e.